Once Upon a Time in Venezuela

Like many documentaries at Sundance, this one tackles the demise of a community. Abandoned by it’s government Lake Maracaibo struggles to fight against pollution and corruption and to keep it’s community together. Filmed over 7 years, you watch a beautiful community of 700 completely disappear with it’s members scattered to who knows where, literally. Cinematography is beautiful as it’s original music. It’s amazing the filmmakers were able to gain the trust of these people, much less stumble upon this story which started out with wanting to film the phenomenon of lightning without thunder storms.

The journey is a bit long but interesting and one can only hope it’s picked up and seen by those who need to make or influence change. Very interesting film but not quite date night worthy unless you have a pot of coffee and are up for a discussion after.

Influence

Before you see this documentary, do a little homework otherwise, like me your interest will be peaked, but you will be overwhelmed. This film seems to be the real life version of “Wag the Dog”.

Lord Timothy Bell is the primary subject. He was the founder of the reputation management firm Bell Pottinger, which came apart in 2017. He began his career as a partner in Saatchi and Saatchi where he met and befriended Margaret Thatcher. With her he learned about power, influence and the strength of advertising/marketing in the political realm. From there it was a fast track to political interference which eventually backfired. This includes trying to be a persuasive force in Iraq (which backfired), Chile, and South Africa where he had a hand in trying to distract South African’s from the corruption of Jacob Zuma’s government by inciting racial tensions.

Leaked to the film makers were over 200,000 emails that linked Bell and his firm to the racial divide in South Africa. This leak led to his demise. Like most documentaries these days, this one discusses the weaponization of social media leaving you to wonder who/what you can trust. It’s disgusting. Information warfare.

Cinematography is terrific, music works well, a little long but worth the watch. Date night worthy with discussion!

The Dissident

Wow. I don’t know how you can see this movie and not be disturbed and highly concerned at the powerful games being played at very high levels as well as the eroding security of well, frankly, everything in the world. This movie shakes you to your core. Filmed as a documented thriller, the director and editor do an amazing job weaving together the threads that collided for a perfect real life trifecta. Jamal Khashoggi was an outspoken writer who loved his home country but yearned for his people to have a voice. He met a dissident living in Canada whom he encouraged, and at the same time found a woman he wanted to marry. There is unquestionable proof that he was murdered, there are transcripts that only Bryan Fogel (director), the UN and 4 or so country leaders have access to. And yet, the UN and even our own president will not hold the Saudi’s accountable – that’s how powerful oil is. In fact, they murdered Jamal and we are continuing to provide them with arms. Not only does the film uncover all the facts – you literally see it in black and white, but it also brings up many other items such as the security threat of Pegasus (no phone is safe). The Saudi’s used it to try and trap Bezos. But, that’s a story for another time. The music for the film is original and underscores the thriller effect as the story unravels much like a good lawyer would present a case. Even if you don’t see the film you must read about it further, if only to learn about “the bees”. It reminds me of what good investigative reporting once was. Can’t wait to see what film Bryan Fogel does next. Date night with discussion after.

This is not a Burial, it’s a Resurrection

Progress is what they use to cloak the word resettlement. In this film, one woman stands tall to bring her community together despite all that life has thrown her way. She must save her community, her land, her tribe and most importantly her burial ground filled with many ancestors who cultivated the land. While this film engrosses in a remote South African way of life, it’s happening all over the world and many cultures are paying the price of progress.

This is truly an arthouse film with a poignant message. Cinematography is amazing, most in the film are non-actors adding to the film’s honesty and those that were cast, (4) you’d have no idea they weren’t natives. Much of the film purposely feels like amazing photos woven together with poetry as the backdrop. From a technical and artistic standpoint, great film. For most of us, however, it’s long and cumbersome, not entertaining. For that reason, I can’t recommend it for date night but do suggest research into the matter.

Zola

Twitter. This movie is loosely based on a 2015 twitter thread written by a kid who became victim of sex trafficking. It’s a smart film, cleverly directed with a talented cast but it falls short in not addressing that sex trafficking affects over 4.5 million victims, 100 calls for help a day. The film is entertaining and surprising unfortunately making it enjoyable. I say unfortunately as I anticipate a lot of kids seeing it and not seeing how truly disturbing it is or how easily it could have been them in the film. I can only hope that when it comes out it’s modified to teach and raise alarm. The gravity and weight are not heavy enough in the film. As for the rating… more like friends night with discussion to be held after.

Us Kids

The Parkland shooting happened in 2018, we’re coming up on it’s 2 year anniversary and it feels like it happened ages ago. Do you remember the kids who started a movement or know what has happened since? This documentary not only answers those questions but inspires one to realize that regardless of your age, you can make a difference.

These kids were traumatized and each has a different way of handling what happened. What’s interesting is seeing how much people dig into their beliefs and how these kids are able to reach out and say I hear you let’s start a dialogue and look for compromise. Many think the kids are against gun ownership and they aren’t. They stand for responsible ownership and accountability. They have been traveling the US and igniting the younger generation to action.

The documentary takes you through the journey of a slice in time to what you do with that and the long lasting effects it has, something the media rarely covers. These kids and vets have a lot in common, including the need for a better behavioral health system. The filmaker is a bit all over the place as there are so many points to make and lessons to learn but in all it’s a good film. Maybe we label this one intellectual date night as you’ll want to discuss it after!

Hillary

Impact. At the heart of this 4 part documentary, if you look beyond the person, is the message of being committed to your convictions and work to create change. Even if what you set out to do doesn’t come about as you would like it to (like being president), you can stir people to action and bring about unexpected change (like the women’s march).

Hillary is Hillary. She’s tough as nails and stubborn. Not sure this film will change anyone’s political views but what it does very nicely is raise the wall of who she is and takes you on a walk through her choices in life, right or wrong. Uncomfortable scandals are addressed in an effort to help one understand her choices. Bill is also vulnerable as he takes you through the Monica scandal. And you find out, she is an expert on impeachments having had to prepare for Nixon’s and they her husbands trials.

Really well edited this 4 + hour documentary (which will air as a 4 part series) flew by. Date night worthy, with conversation to ensue!

Ironbark

The potential was there, a strong cast and good cinematography. Based on a true spy story focused greatly on the cuban missile crisis it’s an interesting topic for a feature film. Then I have to ask, was it the writer or director that made the film feel longer that it needs to be? Or, is it that our attention spans are now just that short. It just doesn’t get exciting until about 3/4 of the way into the movie.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Mirab Ninidze put in strong subtle performances. Rachel Bronsanhan tries hard to break her iconic role but the director does her no favors and the writer falls short of a believable flushed out character.

What you will get is an interesting look at how an ordinary person found the strength to do something extraordinary and honorable while sticking to his belief in people and his convictions. Overall an ok movie but not quite date night worthy and fine to wait until it streams.

Miss Americana

Success takes work. One person can make a difference. And kids matter. I suppose those are the primary messages of this “I just wanna be loved movie”.

You have to admire a 14 year old who knows what she wants from an early age and goes after it. She has tried hard to be a good person and all she has ever wanted is everyone’s love, happiest on stage, standard story. Through the movie you watch her have a couple of moments of maturity as she faces Kanya trying to make a fool of her, twice, for apparently no good reason and the toll it took on her facing her sexual assailant. It’s the latter that had her realize there was more to life than wanting to be loved and that she can use her star power to make a difference in politics.

My hope is that this documentary helps girls feel empowered as they become women and that like Taylor, they open their eyes and see what’s going on around them and take action.

You get a small glimpse of how she creates and what influences her but, her brand is still tightly controlled throughout the film. You see some vulnerability but either she’s too young or not just not loose enough for this to feel like much of a documentary. It will be available on Netflix shortly so no need to go to the theater – and, it’s not date night worthy.

Just Mercy

The film reminds one of Dead Man walking while reflect on where we are in the world with anger and ignorant determination. How do we ensure justice and fight the lack of justice is some states who still live in the past?

While the cast is strong, Jaime Fox surprisingly proves to be the weak link with a surprisingly unsteady performance wobbling between Oscar worthy and phoning it in. Based on a real life story, there are some sections that feel painfully slow and could have been tightened. Overall, it’s well done and reminds us that we need to get involved with life and connect with people beyond the internet. Real life still has bumps that we need to pay attention to. Potentially date night worthy, depends on how serious a night you would like.